It doesn’t matter who he faces, Calibrachoa has been unbeatable on the Aqueduct inner track. The former claimer took over from the pacesetters in the stretch and held off a late run from Caleb's Posse to win the $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) by a neck March 3.
The 5-year-old son of Southern Image won the Tom Fool for the second consecutive year. He made it a perfect 5-for-5 over the inner track and notched his fifth stakes victory—all of them at Aqueduct since he was claimed by Todd Pletcher for $40,000 on behalf of Mike Repole in November 2010.
Cornelio Velasquez guided Calibrachoa to the exciting win as they covered six furlongs on the good track in 1:09.07.
A winner by 4 1/2 lengths in last year’s Tom Fool, Calibrachoa had a much more difficult time on Saturday. He raced from off the pace through the early stages of the race while Royal Currier led the way under Ramon Dominguez and Emcee tracked them closely in second. Justin Phillip and Calibrachoa were next, followed by grade I winners Capt. Candyman Can and Caleb’s Posse. The facrtions were :22.44 and :44.92.
Royal Currier rounded the turn still leading narrowly over Emcee, who was making his stakes debut. Those two were nearly on even terms at the top of the stretch, but Calibrachoa was rallying from the outside and took over approaching the sixteenth pole. But he now had to contend with Caleb’s Posse, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) winner making his 4-year-old debut.
Well back for most of the way and still fifth at the eighth pole, Caleb’s Posse was flying down the center of the racetrack in the final yards under Rajiv Maragh. He looked much like he did when running down Repole’s champion Uncle Mo in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop (gr. I) last summer at Saratoga. But this time the Repole color-bearer would hang on, as Calibrachoa found the wire just in time for his 10th lifetime win in 20 starts.
Emcee finished three-quarters of a length back in third. Capt. Candyman Can was fourth, followed by Royal Currier and Justin Phillip.
"He doesn’t have the big name, but I think this is his year," Repole said. "I think he’s going to be one of the best sprinters in the country this year. Uncle Mo watched the race from his stall in Lexington and he was happy that one of his stablemates was able to hold off Caleb’s Posse. I was just rooting him home; just hoping that he’d get there. Wire, wire, wire, wire; it couldn’t come fast enough.”
Calibrachoa entered the Tom Fool fresh off a 2 1/4-length victory in the Toboggan (gr. III), the second straight year he won that race. Overall, he has won seven of eight races at Aqueduct, his lone setback coming in last year’s Cigar Handicap (gr. I) when third. The dark bay horse has now earned $666,040.
"That was very exciting," Pletcher said. "I was getting very nervous when Caleb’s Posse was making his move, because we’ve seen that before. So, we were happy to see the wire when we did. He’s been a great horse for us. He’s awfully consistent, loves the inner track and is a real cool horse to be around. He’s got a lot of character, and a lot of heart. If he’s doing well, we’ll look next at the Carter (gr. I, April 7).”
Calibrachoa was bred in Kentucky by Nelson B. Hunt and is out of the Montbrook mare Fort Lauderdale.
The winner paid $9.40, $3.80, and $2.40. The exacta (5-6) returned $26 and the trifecta (5-6-4) was $51.
Of Caleb's Posse comeback effort, trainer Donnie Von Hemel said: “He ran a good race. He just ran out of ground. It was a big effort, and I’m very happy with him. The Carter is still the plan.”